Miller’s Ledge (part 2)

Phineas did not sleep when he finally returned to Pastor Bellow’s instead he quickly gathered all the monies he had earned and saved and ventured out to the home of Judge Plinth. The judge owned the aforementioned house on the lane leading out of town but he had since moved on to a much larger piece of property and less humble home. He sold the house to Phineas that very morning.
Clutching the deed, he marched out to the Greens house and boldly called upon Miss Emily without pretense. Upon sight of him, before she had even stepped out onto the porch, her heart suddenly skipped for a moment. Her father stepped out first, perhaps to dissuade him but Phineas insisted. With reluctance, for he believed that Emily did not love Phineas, Mr. Green gave his blessing if she were to say yes.
Emily stepped out shyly onto the porch and Phineas dropped to one knee. “Miss Emily Green I am not one who is good with flowery phrases so I’ll simply ask if you would you do the me the honor of becoming my bride?”
Before he could reach into his waistcoat to procure the ring he had within she grabbed his hand. “Yes, Master Cooper, I would be honored to do so,“ she giggled happily.
Mr. and Mrs. Green looked at each other dumbstruck but they could not deny their ears.
The town was atwitter for weeks after as Phineas set about preparing the house and Emily preparing herself. A date was chosen and the ladies of the village began making her gown, crafting a shawl and bodice from the finest white velvet and cream lace in the county. Phineas, too, was hard at work preparing the house, building furniture and clearing out nests of wild creatures that had taken up residence.
So caught up in his work and his plans was Phineas that he forgot all about the stranger and their agreement and that Emily had even been bewitched. He came to believe that she truly loved him and that belief whispered to him, keeping him blindly happy.
The day came, the weather was perfect, the ceremony was beautiful and it seemed as though it was truly a blessed day. Phineas had never been happier as he and Emily shared their first kiss and then walked hand in hand down the aisle. They retired to the Green’s home to receive the congratulations of friends and neighbors. The afternoon wore into the night and lanterns came out, lighting the dusk.
Mr. Green brought out bottles of wine he had purchased in Virginia as the fiddler began another round of music. The dancers circled around under the stars, moving for the enjoyment of the wedding party. Toasts were raised and the night was without care or worry.
Phineas’ new bride grew tired soon, faint with the excitement of the day and they eventually excused themselves. A carriage awaited them and to the hurrahs of the attendees, they rumbled off into the night.
They waved to the carriage driver as he rode away, leaving them on the stoop of Phineas’ freshly prepared house. He opened the door and lifted her in his arms, carrying her across the threshold.
“Where have you been?” demanded a voice in the dark and a candle suddenly flamed to life on the hearth.
Sitting on a hard stool in the corner was the stranger. He leaned forward on his gnarled stick and scowled at the groom and his bride. Emily’s eyes widened and she clutched close to Phineas. Phineas’ eyes also widened though not in shock but in sudden remembrance.
“What are you doing here?” Phineas hissed.
“Waiting for you,” the stranger said in disgust. “A long time have I been sitting here, too.”
“Who-,” Emily stuttered, “who is this man?”
The stranger chuckled and it was deep and ominous. “Have you forgotten our agreement, Phineas Cooper? She is indeed worthy of a king’s crown.”
“Don’t you dare to look at her that way, fiend. I refuse to honor our bargain.” Phineas stepped forward, putting himself between Emily and the leering stranger.
The stranger stood now, pointing a crooked, accusing finger at them, “in exchange for her heart, I get to spend your wedding night with her. That was the deal, do not deny it now.”
“I made no such abomination,” Phineas shut his eyes tightly and shook his head to refuse the thought.
“Phineas!” Emily called out, “what is he saying?” In breaking the deal, the spell was now broken and Emily looked around in confused terror at the house and the gnome-like stranger. “What have you done?”
“He sold you in order to own you,” the stranger cackled and took a step forward. “Now he has broken our deal and I’m claiming his bride as my own!”
Who cried out cannot be said, for all voices were jumbled but there was a struggle as the stranger reached out and Emily shrank back and Phineas struck. The stranger’s aspect transformed, standing tall and straight and looming over them, his lumpish shape having melted away. His head brushed just inches from the ceiling beams, his black eyes glittered like polished coal and a wicked smile curled the corners of his mouth.
Emily, the poor foolish girl, tried to run but her beautiful gown wrapped itself around her legs and she fell to the floor at the stranger’s feet. She tried scooting back but his hand ensnared her wrist and pulled her up. Sobbing in abject terror, her once white dress was now besmirched with dust and grime and tears.
“Release her!” Phineas roared grabbing her other wrist.
“She’s mine!”
The stranger, now hearty and hale, planted his feet and tugged. His unnatural strength caught Phineas by surprise, unbalancing him. Phineas tried to find purchase on the newly finished floor but his fancy boots slid him forward.
The stranger’s eyes glowed an angry red. “Give her to me,” he insisted and waved his stick at him as it transformed into staff of highly polished ebony wood. “You’ve broken the deal now pay the price.”
“Never! I’ll pursue you into the pit, if need be!” his feet slid further.
“Then so be it!” The stranger swung his staff down upon Emily’s arm. “I’ll leave you something to remember her by, though.”
Phineas fell back now, hitting the floorboards with a surprised grunt. In his hands he still held Emily’s arm but it had been severed at the elbow. He looked up and saw the stranger and Emily, his beloved Emily, stepping through a portal that had opened in the middle of the room. Emily was slumped in the stranger’s arm, eyes shut, pale cheeks even paler and once ruby lips parted and blanched.
“We’ll see you soon enough,“ the stranger mocked before the portal squeezed itself down to a dot of darkness then winked out.

They found him in the morning.
Pastor Bellow had come down to offer them a morning blessing and some breads from one of his parishioners’ and received no answer to his knocking. He stepped around to peer though one of the windows and spied the signs of a struggle. Furnishings toppled, the rug askew and blood on the floor. Trying the handle, the door opened and inside he found poor Emily’s forearm laying lovingly on a pillow. From the rafters of the ceiling Phineas swung, having hung himself in order to follow his bride down to the brimstone pits.
Rumors of what happened in the house quickly ran rampant around the county. Pastor Bellow tried to cleanse the house but still refused to venture down the road. The house itself was shuttered and shunned thereafter.
If you should happen upon the town, though, visit the church and take a moment to bend a knee. Say a prayer for foolish Phineas Cooper and his poor bride Emily, bow your head for their mortal souls. If you look closely at the back of your pew, perhaps you shall see them, carved in beautiful relief, suffering at the hands of the stranger.

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